birthday letters

Year 5: A Letter

Dear Norah,

You are five today. Five! I say this all the time, but I am not sure where the time is going. In ways I feel like you were just born, and in ways I feel like you have always been here. I don’t remember much of what life was like without you, and your constant enthusiasm and curiosity never leaves a dull moment. You are always observing, asking questions, and exploring anything you find that piques your interest. You never slow down, and nothing is beyond the scope of your imagination.

UntitledI can count on you to make me laugh, everyday and without fail. Every time I feel overwhelmed or disheartened or just exhausted (which is pretty much everyday in this season of our lives together), you find a way to show me the light. Unlike your brother and me, it is pretty rare that you are serious about anything for very long, but I think God knew what he was doing when he placed you in our household because your sunshine brightens the room and lightens my load, and I am forever grateful to you for that. I can’t stay discouraged for long when you are here to cheer me up and remind me to see the good and find the playful in any situation.
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Sometimes you and I are like oil and water. I look at you with frustration and wonder who this creature is and how she works because we are so different. But I think our differences are what make us work well together. I know I have a lot to teach you, but I think you have a lot to teach me, too. How to lighten up and laugh and say hello to strangers. How to ignore my best laid plans and be a little spontaneous sometimes. How to stay up late. How to laugh with your mouth wide open and touch frogs and worms without shuddering. People say we look alike, but in reality we are not mirrors at all. You are the yin to my yang, and sometimes I think you are a lot wiser than I am. Your demeanor always shows what you believe on the inside – that everything will be alright and that life is mostly good and fun and play. Grown-ups are quick to forget this, but I feel like with you I have this reminder every day.

Katie-13For all your fiery energy though, you are still sweet and gentle. Your teachers tell me when other kids fall on the playground, you are the first to check on them. You are kind and earnest. You are easily impressionable and want so badly to please those around you – your peers and your teachers and your brother included. The sibling bickering feels like it will kill me on most days. (Mom, he’s touching me!) But every once in a while, I get to see a glimpse of how it used to be before you guys reached this age of competition – and how I hope it will be again one day when you are grown. He doesn’t admit it often, but he loves you just as much as I do.
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This was a big year for you – you learned how to write your name and how to identify all your sounds and letters.  You sort your own toys in a way that makes no sense to me, but it does to you. You dress your dolls in their clothes and throw them on your hip when we walk in a store like you have a real baby. You create these ridiculous scenarios of imagination and ask me to participate… Mama, pretend your name is Millie and mine is Hallie and we are kids but we live by ourselves, okay? Pretend you are cooking for us now and we live in a treehouse and this doll is our baby sister. You have a whole world inside your own head, and it is my favorite thing about this age.

Last week you learned to swim. I decided that my nerves could not handle another summer of two non-swimmers, so I enrolled you and your brother in a week of private instruction. By day three, you were jumping off the diving board into 8 feet of water and swimming to the edge of the pool. I’ve seen you do it with my own eyes, and yet you panic now when we swim and the water reaches above your own head. So here I am again for the summer – not teaching you to swim but teaching you to believe that you can swim. If that isn’t one huge metaphor for what it’s like to exist in the world as a woman, I don’t know what is. (And you know your English teacher mama loves a good metaphor to teach me the lessons I need to learn.) So let’s make a deal now, okay? I will remind you who you really are and what you are capable of, and you do the same for me. We both have what it takes to swim, even when the water gets deep. Sometimes people are the last to recognize their own power, so I am telling you now that I see it already in you – when I watch you explore or listen to you talk or even just see you sleeping at night in your bed. I know that what lies in front of you in your own life may feel insurmountable in the moment. I know because I’ve been there.

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But I can also see so clearly that spark in you that tells me you can do anything you set your mind to. Five is just the beginning, and every day I find a new reason to love you. Happy Birthday, Norah.

Love,

Mama

 

** I write letters to my kids on their birthdays to give to them when they are older, and I post some of them on this blog. You can see past letters here.

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blogging, Books

springtime (and a present for you!)

It’s officially the spring equinox today. The sun is out, the grass is getting greener, and new things await for all of us.

The rhythm of changing seasons is such a comfort, isn’t it? No matter how cold and bleak something is looking in the present moment or what little annoyances are speaking loudly in your ear, it will come and go and eventually make way for something new. Nature mirrors everything else for us if we pay attention.

March brings my own birthday, and it also brings the “birthday” of this little journal – one I began late at night in a chair at my kitchen desk in a house that is now two houses past with a baby who is now a growing boy and a life that is now a million lifetimes ago. I never in a million years – never ever ever, I cannot stress that enough – saw this tiny space as becoming what is has been for me in my past year and a half. I chose a blog title somewhat hurriedly and randomly when I knew that I’d be writing mostly about motherhood and a little about books. I had no idea that it would become about so much more than that. A journal of pain and heartache but also one of light and gladness and immeasurable personal revelations born in moments I never foresaw.

And here we are, six years later, I’m still writing and still recording details of my days that may or may not be of interest to anyone but me. But sometimes they are, and sometimes they have led to moments of clarified purpose that propel me forward even now to some place new.

I think words have a way of healing us like nothing else can. They have a way of shedding light on confusion when nothing else makes sense. I often write about someone else’s words and how they changed me, and it is my very favorite thing to get emails from readers – during this past year they came from as nearby as Atlanta and as far away as Germany – telling me that my words have done the same for them. Personal purpose and a burning need to record my own experiences is why I sit down to write in the first place, but it’s the circle of influence and the ripples that result that keep me showing up again and again.

In celebration of the 6th birthday of this little journal, and in appreciation for every one of you who reads here, I put together a little giveaway with the help of some amazing Etsy artists to pass on to a lucky winner. I’m starting with a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough, which is a compilation of quotes from her earlier works. I got my hands on it last fall when it was initially published, and it’s hard to choose a favorite passage. It’s a handy little guidebook when I’m feeling overwhelmed or lost, and Strayed’s usual no-nonsense wisdom shines on every page. The title stems from her passage in an essay on The Rumpus when she tells a reader to “be brave enough to break your own heart,” and that concept echoes on every page. It astounds me how many times in the past year of my life someone has called me “brave” when anyone who knows me knows that I am, in many ways, the opposite of brave. I am scared and cautious and careful at almost every moment of every day, but I’m realizing real bravery stems from the insistence to stand in your own truth and show your real heart. There’s nothing that requires more courage, and there’s nothing that provides those same feelings of peace and power.

To add to my bookish gift, Brianna over at BBeadazzled is giving this beauty. It seemed like the perfect accompaniment to Strayed’s work and a reminder to be brave and show up in the truest way every single day.

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And Lovewell Handlettering added this sweet little journal as well. Gratitude as a general concept and gratitude as a daily practice are two totally different things, and I cannot overestimate the ways my life has grown and changed by my persistence in recording the beauty of everyday moments in this space. It opens my eyes everyday to see the good in what’s around me. I’d love to pass on an encouragement to you to do the same.

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I have passed on quote after quote and underlined paragraphs and scribbled marginalia in so many books in the past few years and then shared those words with you here. What I’d like for this bloggy birthday is for you to do the same thing in return. What quote sets you on fire? What line have you underlined or scribbled somewhere in hopes you wouldn’t forget it? It’s hard to choose just one favorite passage, but I’d love to hear one that rings true for you right now. Pass it on and share it with the rest of us.

You are welcome to leave a comment here, or if you are reading from your phone, click on over to Facebook and leave one there if that’s easier. (This post is pinned at the top.) This Friday, the 25th, I’ll number the comments, let a number generator choose the winner, and then check in with the winner to ship your goodies!

Sharing words is my very favorite thing to do, and I can’t wait to see what bits of wisdom you scatter here. I’ll go first with a passage that has guided me immeasurably in the past year and continues to do so when I read it again and again.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

So many times in recent months I have repeated live the questions now again and again in my head, and it still amazes me that words written in 1929 by someone I will never meet can do what they do in my own life. Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

So now it’s your turn. Tell us below or over on Facebook. What words shine like a light for you? I’ll choose a winner on Friday.

Happy birthday, little blog.

gratitude, single parenthood

year 34

I celebrated a birthday this week, and as always with milestones and big occasions, it makes you realize where you are and how far you’ve come and reflect on the year behind as well as the one in front of you.  Remember when I posted a list of 33 goals last year?  That list got abandoned in the chaos of my past 5 months, but I had no idea when I wrote that post that life had bigger plans on what I needed to learn in my 33rd year.

Last year on my birthday, we ate dinner as a family on the back porch to inaugurate daylight savings time and spring and another year for me.  I posted a photo of Norah and me on Instagram, and I captioned it with a quote by Jarod Kintz that I’d run across which says, “The year of your birth marks only your entry into the world.  Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.” I intended that as a reflection on the previous year and the challenges that I faced in motherhood and work and the whole work-family balance I began that year.  It’s so weird to look back on that now – knowing I had no idea the challenges that lied in front of me.

But this year, friends, I really proved my worth. I’ve got a mountain left to climb in the coming months, but I’m on the way. I celebrated this week in a big way.  Lunch with a friend on my actual birthday (with cupcakes!) followed by an impulse buy to a concert on Friday night with some former coworkers who have become like family to me. (For Hozier, and people, if you have not heard that album go buy it NOW. I have been obsessed for months.) Untitled The setlist was just what I wanted it to be, the venue was great, and he closed with a couple of my favorites as the audience sang along. I love those connected moments you get with strangers at events like plays and concerts.  It felt like church in the most real way.

Then Saturday afternoon my closest girlfriends of 16 years treated me to a facial and a private spa party at our favorite place to chat and treat ourselves.  The older I get, the more grateful I am for my truest friends. I cannot begin to explain the struggles we’ve encountered in the time we’ve known each other – and I won’t because some of those struggles are closely held and deeply personal for us.  But it has all shown me that life is so scary and unpredictable and that most importantly, the human spirit is stronger. The strength I gather from these women and their perspectives and stories is like no other. I’m so lucky to know them and to be loved by them. Untitled After that, we went out to dinner and met up with my other closest group (whom I saw Friday at the concert, so it was a double treat).  I could not have made it through year 33 standing on my own two feet without this crew.  And I mean that with absolute sincerity.  There were days, weeks even, that I really just wanted to roll over and cry a river and did not understand what the next step would be to move forward. But these girls and their constant contact and honesty with me, their acceptance of me and their listening ears when I poured everything out in all its ugliness, they are the force that pushed me forward. Untitled It’s such an irony that the year I learned I was so dearly loved is the year that I lost the person who was supposed to love me, so to speak. He was expected to and bound to by vows and legal trappings and societal expectations, but these women emerged as my tribe this year. My people and my family.  I cannot write enough words of gratitude to express what that has been for me, the way it has healed me. I am loved and valued, and I truly don’t know that I would feel that without so much support from so many people this year.

We followed up dinner with a spontaneous decision to walk around a bit and stop for cookies.  Can’t help but laugh at the deja-vu of a mall cookie experience with a group of thirty-somethings.  It was in an outdoor shopping area, and we saw groups of middle schoolers walking together.  We struck up a conversation with a few of them and reminisced on what those early days of independence felt like for us, when parents would first allow you to go on an outing alone with friends and the thrill of possibility it brought to you. Untitled And now, at 34, my life is so different than it was at 14, of course. But I feel that sense of possibility emerging a bit despite the pain.  My perspective is shifting in the slightest way, and I am realizing that a whole world lies ahead and I don’t know what it holds, and that is both terrifying and thrilling.  But it is mine. All mine. With my decisions and my own ideas and my own future waiting. I don’t know where or to whom it will take me, but it is a blank canvas right now, and I think I’m ready to start painting it  as I begin year 34.

Another birthday treat came last weekend with a handwritten card (oh, how I love real mail!) from a graduate school friend who knows my love for Mary Oliver and reminded me of the joy in the journey, so to speak.  The joy of possibility and self sovereignty. Untitled There is another line from that poem that I adore which says, “there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world.”  And I’m hearing that voice now.  When I am still and quiet and allow myself to listen to it, I’m hearing my own voice.

It sounds like an old friend.

birthday letters

Year Two: A Letter

Dear Norah,

Somehow you are two today, and my baby doesn’t feel like such a little one anymore. This year has been monumental for you in so many ways. You run steadily rather than toddle. You use words we are beginning to understand. You process the world around you faster than we’d like sometimes.  Your knowing eyes are firm, your gaze is insistent, and you have a mind of your own.  I find that this is such a weird age – so big yet so little at the same time.  But I guess I could say that about you every year from now on. As I grow older and as I watch you do the same, my perspective changes. It’s my favorite thing about being a mom – new eyes all the time.

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I have to laugh a little as I think back on what we were doing two years ago and how you came into this world. The days that followed your entrance were so quiet and peaceful. I had relatives ask in the early weeks if you had ever cried before because they were genuinely concerned that there could be a medical reason for your silence. And in hindsight, I don’t know when you crossed that line as you became more comfortable in your own skin, but quiet is not exactly the word I would use to describe you most of the time. Happy? Sad? Angry? Excited? You tell the world, loud and clear.

You’ve found your voice, and you aren’t afraid to use it. Much of it is minimally understood by the general public right now, of course. But those of us who live with you have learned Norah-speak. We have no choice but to listen. You’ll sit (or “disss”) on the couch and yell “babink!” louder and louder and LOUDER until someone brings you the blanket you want. Same with your morning demand for water in a very particular cup (never the easily reachable one at the front of the cabinet) or the million other requests and orders you shout at us all day. Persistence, my dear. I will never have to teach you that one. But it is a trait that will serve you well, and I love that you assert your ideas and wishes already.

Waffles.  6:05am on a Saturday.

When I think about you as my daughter and what that means, it makes me a little nervous. I worry about the same societal pressures that have been apparent for generations but just keep getting stronger with time, it seems.  But for every demand of yours to put on a fluffy dress, you request Jude’s Thor costume and have acquired a pretty convincing use of its hammer. For every time you say “princess,” you also yell “Batman!” and put on a superhero cape. You are feisty but gentle. Content but persistent. Shy but opinionated. Energetic but observant.  What is it Louisa May Alcott says? You can be “a great many things.” Hold onto that idea as you grow and change. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can only be one thing. You are way more than that, and we see it already.

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You have taught me so much in these months. You lead me to question my long-held assumptions about girlhood and independence and attachment and my expectations of what it means to be a mother. You have an independent streak I don’t recall seeing in your brother at this age, and though you love to be held, you wave goodbye when you want to without looking back.  I know one day you’ll do this on a much bigger scale when you cross highways and continents and all kinds of symbolic thresholds without me.  For now, this is hard enough. I welcome a little longer with you safely in my nest.

It’s hard for me to visualize what life will be like as you get older, especially knowing you are likely the last baby in our home.  You’ll tie your own shoes one day. Grab your own snacks from the fridge. Brush your own hair. These simple tasks that fill my moments will disappear. Your interests will move far beyond me and our life together, and your dreams will get bigger and bolder. When I consider all that waits, I don’t mind your insistent hands and grunting voice reaching for me when I’m making dinner. Having done this before with your brother ahead of you, I know we are looking at your last year as such a portable little sidekick. Let’s enjoy it.

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You want to be bigger, older, stronger, and I want to tell you to hold off and stay right here for a while, but I know it doesn’t do any good to wish time could pause – not now and not when you are ten or sixteen or twenty, or in my case thirty-three. So for the moment, I just take these mental photographs and try my hardest to remember every detail as you are now – still soft and squishy and compact for a little while longer. We have a lot to do together before you leave my grip.

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To my mischievous, spirited, perceptive, tenacious daughter: thank you for entertaining me, for keeping me on my toes, for reminding me to pay attention and see the joy in everyday life. I love you.

Happy Birthday, Norah.

Love,
Mama

 

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*Photos snapped on my iPhone or taken during our session with Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee.
 
*** I write letters to my kids on their birthdays. You can see Norah’s previous ones here and here.  And you can read Jude’s first, second, third, and fourth letters here.

 

Life and Randomness

33 Goals for Year 33

I didn’t mean for a whole month to pass before posting again.  We’ve been so busy this past few weeks, and I’m excited to say spring is around the corner.  I celebrated my birthday on Sunday with dinner outside and strawberry shortcake Jude helped me make.  It was a perfect way to begin my year and inaugurate the spring and summer.  Longer days and more time outside lie ahead.

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I’ve seen goal lists for new year’s posts and birthdays, and I love the idea, so I decided to do one for myself.  As always, accountability is a reason to post it here, and I figure it will be fun to post a little every now and then on my progress.  Some of these are a little embarrassing in that they are things I should be doing already, but I am putting it all out here anyway.  Some are just for fun.   I hope to come back to this post and cross them off as I get them done.   I love fresh slates and new beginnings, and I have a good feeling about 33.

1. Go to the dentist.  (Recently neglected for me.  I think it’s been about two years!)

2. Get an actual physical.  (So embarrassing to admit this, but 2007 was the last time I had a physical.  Seven years ago!)

3. Establish somewhat regular exercise.  Emphasis being on somewhat – I’d be happy with 1-2 times a week if it really happens.)

4. Start submitting some freelance writing pieces for publication.

5. Travel somewhere I’ve never been before.

6. Start using my camera again – not just my iPhone.

7. Get at least three facials before I turn 34.  (My friend’s skincare clinic is AMAZING, and I’m old enough to take care of my skin a little better.  I love visiting her for treatments when I can.)

8. Discover a new musician or two.

9. See three movies in the theater.  ( I never do this anymore!)

10. Go on a few real dates.

11. Blog more often, at least 24 more entries before I turn 34.

12.Pack some good food for a real picnic once this spring or fall.

13. Have some fun new experiences with the kids – maybe a day trip, a new museum, festivals, etc.

14. Get to know our library.  It is walking distance from our home and just opened this year.

15. Get to know our new farmer’s market this summer.  It’s busy and thriving and one mile down the street.  So much better than the supermarket!

16. See a concert.

17. Focus on taking a true sabbath every week. No plans, at least a few hours of no housework and phones and computers.

18. Master steak in a cast iron skillet. (Some claim it’s the best way to cook them.)

19. Make homemade gnocchi.

20. Complete 5 knitting projects.

21. Create more time for reading, and finish more books.  (I’m leaving them unfinished so shamefully often lately.)

22. Establish some flowers and vegetables in our back yard.

23. Create a reading nook in our master bedroom.

24. Finish the family recipe book I began last year.

25. Complete Norah’s second year album.

26. Finish our 2014 family album.

27. Finish the guest bedroom in our house.

28. Get a better understanding of retirement savings and save more in general.  (I know we put money away, but at this age, you don’t question or worry too much.  I could examine it a lot more carefully.)

29. Continue to invest more time in my close friendships.  Maybe even a brief girls’ trip this year.

30. Streamline my closet a bit, throw out old clothing and be ruthless about it this time.

31. Share 6 recipes here.

32. Go strawberry picking with the kids and enjoy the apple orchards again as we did last year.

33. Make use of our screened porch and outside space this summer.  (I have big plans for ferns, rugs, extra seating, and a sandbox for the kids.)

Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far.  What about you?  Any goals for the upcoming year or the season ahead?  Spring is a great time to make big plans.